Anachronistic, simplistic, religiously iffy... The shitstorm of axe-grinding complaints about Ridley Scott’s liberal tale of a blacksmith who becomes a knight who becomes the defender of Jerusalem was vicious. It was also pointless.
Criticising Hollywood epics for being historically ropey is like scolding water for being wet. Films are mass entertainment, not historical dissertations. Who really cares if a few facts get smoothed over to craft a better story? Does it matter if the look of the armour isn’t quite right or the political affiliations aren’t on the money? Isn’t it better to be progressive and have a religiously tolerant movie even if the time it depicts wasn’t?
Whatever. There’s only one important question about Kingdom Of Heaven – is it any good? Yes. To a point. With Gladiator and Black Hawk Down behind him, Scott has firmly developed a recognisable directing style – half David Lean, half John Woo – and this is a trademark mix of cold beauty and balls-out combat.
The real-life Crusades are the jumping-off point, but the inspiration comes from the likes of El Cid and Lawrence Of Arabia: beautiful, heroic movies with guts, gore and internal integrity. They may not always stick to the facts but they are true to themselves.
The frustration is the studio’s sticky fingers staining the print. Rumour suggests Scott was pressured to curtail his vision, and scenes are clearly cut into late and exited early, certain sequences and subplots (the Eva Green love story) marooned and character motivation is underpowered. In Gladiator, any confusion melted away in the glare of Russell Crowe’s charisma. Orlando Bloom can’t quite compensate – particularly in the arse-puckering “You’re all knights now!” speech – although he does cut a Flynn-ian dash when required to swash buckles against the enemy. True, it’s difficult to see the weedy plummy boy who pops up on the docs as a widescreen epic-action hero, but those 20lbs of added muscle just about swing it. The cast’s other big players crop up on the DVD: Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson’s warriors, Green’s princess and Marton Csokas’ nefarious Frenchman.